Cut Glass Theatre brings convicts to Seoul
By John Redmond
History records many drastic responses to problems such as bleeding the ill, drowning young women suspected of practicing witchcraft, or, in the case of 18th century Britain, the transportation of criminals to Australia.
Cut Glass Theatre, an expat theatre company in Seoul, will explore that chilling topic in their next piece, “Our Country’s Good,” at Moon Night In Itaewon from May 18.
The play is set in 1788, when Britain controlled an empire that spanned the globe. Its riches were enormous and its culture was blossoming but amidst that prosperity a disease-like problem was spreading ― crime.
Laws were rigid and prisons were already packed to capacity. Britannia’s solution was to export over 50,000 criminals were sent to America, while later up to 160,000 were sent to Australia, often for minor offences.
Transport involved a horrendous eight-month journey before fulfilling a sentence of between five and seven years. There was little chance of escape, and those that managed it usually died of starvation, or were eaten by the harsh Australian wildlife.
So, why produce a play on such an unpleasant topic? As director Jessica Adel explains, the show is not really about Australia, but the transformative power of art.
"Captain Phillips allows the convicts to perform a play, but conflict arises when some officers are vehemently against it. They worry that the convicts will begin questioning the chain of command, and that the time spent rehearsing will waste valuable hours of hard labor,” said Adel.
What makes the dramatization uniquely compelling is that the performers playing the sometimes abusive and tyrannical officers are the same actors who take on the roles of the convicts themselves.
“The play relies on the fact that each actor plays two roles, one a convict and the other an officer" says Adel. “You might have a high-ranking officer arguing with a lower one, then later the higher one is being treated badly by the lower-ranking officer. In one scene, an officer is ordered to go and start the punishment for a convict which he is himself playing. The playwright has deliberately blurred the lines between the two characters to expose the human being underneath. It's done extremely well.”
Amidst the serious drama of the story, there are also humorous moments and culture clashes between the misfits, rogues, whores, tricksters, and petty thieves of the colony.
The three founders of Cut Glass are no strangers to tackling period plays. When Englishman Gef Somervell, American Stephanie Ann Foster, and Canadian Adel founded the company in March of 2011, their inaugural production was “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and they recently produced the 1980s classic “Educating Rita.”
But there is something special about this play, adds Adel, and that something is the homage paid to the arts. As she says, "Theater is a bonding process. It can galvanize people and bring them together. It can also heal, educate and, we hope, entertain."
“This show has everything: love, death, sex, madness, comedy, and sexy British Redcoats galore."
“Our Country’s Good” will have 8 p.m. showings on Fridays and Saturdays on May 18, 19, 25 and 26, and 5 p.m. matinees on Sunday May 20 and 27.
Ticket cost 15,000 won.
To get to Moon Night leave Itaewon station via exit three, do a u-turn to your right and walk around the corner. Pass Taco Bell, and then take a left. Take the first right, and Moon Night will be on your left.
For information visit CutGlassTheatre@Gmail.com.